A Concise Overview of the Book of Revelation
Letters to Churches (1-3). Jesus is the glorious Son of Man, who is present by his Spirit in his churches (1:9-20). He knows their situation and their deeds as they are attacked by religious deception, persecution, and the seduction of pleasure, affluence, comfort, and conformity (2-3).
Seals (4:1-8:1). Jesus is the victorious Lion because he died as the sacrificial Lamb. He has authority to reveal the meaning of what will happen in history (4-5). At his bidding military conquest (white horse), war and bloodshed (red horse), and food scarcity (black horse), leading to death through violence, famine, and disease (pale horse) will punish the church’s enemies until the end (6:1-8). Although his martyrs must wait awhile until their enemies are destroyed (6:9-11), God’s justice will come (6:12-17). Through it all Jesus protects his covenant people, symbolized as a full army of twelve tribes (7:1-8), who are drawn from all the world’s peoples, so that nothing will separate us from his love (7:9-17). When Jesus brings woes on earth’s evil powers, it is in answer to his people’s prayers for relief (8:1-5).
Trumpets: Warning Signals of Coming Judgment (8:2-11:18). Jesus will bring limited, providential judgments on the earth as signal blasts, foreshadowing the great judgment and calling earth’s inhabitants to repent. These include the effects of war (burning of land, bloodying of sea, defiling of fresh water, darkening of sky by smoke, 8:6-12). Even worse, rebels will be tormented by demonically induced despair and death (9). But Jesus gives John the sure testimony that his patient waiting will not continue forever (10). In the meanwhile his witness church cannot be harmed until its task is done, and even its visible defeat (martyr’s death) is its victory (11:1-14). In the end the kingdom of the world will belong to our Lord and his Christ (11:15-18).
The Dragon and the Lamb: The Heart of the Conflict (11:19-15:4). The center of the Revelation gives an X-ray of the central conflict: Christ versus the dragon. The birth, death, and enthronement of the child of Eve/Israel have abolished Satan’s authority to accuse believers (12:1-12). In his death throes all that Satan can do is to try to attack believers on earth (12:13-13:1) through persecution (sea beast, 13:1-10), deception (land beast, 13:11-18), and sensual pleasure (harlot, 14:8; 16:9; 17-18). The Lamb and his pure army are enthroned in victory on the heavenly Zion (14:1-5; 15:1-4), and the Lamb will bring his enemies to judgment for the death of his martyrs (14:6-20).
Bowls: God’s Wrath Completed (15:5-16:21). The complete judgment previously foreshadowed in the limited, providential disasters of history (trumpets) will come on those who have served the dragon through the beasts and the harlot: neither earth, sea, water springs, nor sunlight will sustain life (16:1-9). The dragon’s final conspiracy to gather the world’s powers and peoples against Christ’s church will result in the rebel’s destruction (16:10-21).
The Harlot Babylon (17:1-19:10). The world’s seductive power (harlot) has been supported by its coercive power (beast, 17); the source of her intoxication has been the death of Jesus’ faithful witnesses (17:6; 18:6; 19:2). But the glamour of the beast’s woman is a sham, and her luxurious wealth will be stripped from her in the full view of those who have loved the comforts she has offered (18:1-19:5). Jesus’ bride will be vindicated (19:6-10).
Thousand Years, Last Battle, and Last Judgment (19:11-21:8). When the dragon, beast, and false prophets have gathered the world’s powers to destroy the church (16:14), Jesus will defeat his enemies and cast them into the lake of fire forever (19:11-21; 20:7-10). Until that time, however, Satan has been bound, prevented from assembling this worldwide conspiracy against the church (for ‘one thousand years’ = a long time), while the martyrs who have died on earth live and rule with Christ in heaven (20:1-6). The climax of Jesus’ victory is the judgment of all people, in which rebels are condemned for the deeds written in their ‘record books’ (20:11-15) and saints who are written in the Lamb’s ‘registry book’ are welcomed into the new heaven and new earth as the bride-city of God (cf. 21:1-8).
The New Creation and the Bride Jerusalem (21:1-22:21). Her enemies destroyed, the church will stand complete in flawless beauty as the bride of the Lamb, the temple of God, resplendent with his glory. Overcomers will inherit the new heaven and new earth (21:1-8) and will delight in God’s presence forever. Even as the church cries out to her Husband, ‘Come, Lord Jesus’ (22:20), his delay allows timem for the thirsty still to come to him for the water of life (22:17).
Dennis E. Johnson, Triumph of the Lamb: A Commentary on Revelation (New Jersey: P & R Publishing, 2001) Appendix A, 347-349.